She made her feature film debut in Catherine Hardwicke’s “Thirteen” opposite Holly Hunter and Evan Rachel Wood. Soon thereafter, she co-starred in the action-adventure film “Thunderbirds” and landed a gig as a recurring guest star on Disney Channel’s “The Suite Life of Zach & Cody.” Her other television credits include appearances on “Quintuplets,” “Brothers Garcia,” “Still Standing” and “Robbery Homicide Division.”
It was, however, Vanessa’s role on Disney Channel’s breakaway sensation “High School Musical” that has garnered her the most praise and attention. In it, she plays Gabrielle Montez, the sweet girl torn between her attraction to both basketball jock Troy Bolton and the school musical auditions. Vanessa played Gabrielle again in the equally-successful sequels “High School Musical 2” and “High School Musical 3.”
While acting has consumed the bulk of her attention, she still has found the time to devote herself to singing and performing. After releasing her debut solo album “V”—a captivating variety of rock, electronic and R&B styles—Vanessa toured with the Cheetah Girls, and followed that up with her second album, “Identified.” And she is presently working on two upcoming films, “Beastly” and “Sucker Punch.”
As business savvy as she is attractive, Vanessa has the rare distinction of landing simultaneously on both Forbes Magazine’s High Earners under 30 List and on People Magazine’s 100 Most Beautiful List, and while still in her teens. Here, she talks about her new film, Bandslam, a music-driven drama where she moves out of her comfort zone to play a moody loner called Sa5m (pronounced “Sam” because the “5” is silent).
KW: Hi Vanessa, thanks for taking some time out from your hectic schedule to give me an interview.
VH: Of course!
KW: I know you’re in the middle of making a public appearance right now, and it sounds like you’re being mobbed by fans as we speak. Are you okay?
VH: It’s a little crazy, but it’s all good.
KW: Great! Well, what interested you in playing Sa5m in Bandslam?
VH: Just the fact that she was different from the character I was stuck playing in High School Musical. Hearing “introverted” and “deadpan” in the same sentence was interesting, and that was what I was looking for.
KW: How was it working with Todd Graff as a director?
VH: He was great. It was nice having him as a director, because he used to be an actor as well. So, he was totally there for the actors which was really nice.
KW: And how did you get along with your co-stars Gaelan [Connell] and Aly [Michalka] and the rest of the cast?
VH: It was a blast! We had so much fun. Aly’s an amazing girl. We went shopping, and South by Southwest [Music and Film Festival] was going on in Austin while we were shooting there. So we went to see Willie Nelson, and we saw a bunch of movies with the cast, too. It was just fun, a lot of fun!
KW: I knew that you played piano, but is there any truth to the rumor that you do your own guitar playing in Bandslam?
VH: Yes, I learned how just for this movie.
KW: Are you going to keep playing guitar?
VH: I guess that’s kind of a given, but I haven’t really picked one up again yet. I should, and wish I had, but I haven’t.
KW: I understand you received classical voice training as a child.
VH: Yeah, my professional training was in opera.
KW: You sing, dance, play instruments and act. Which is your favorite?
VH: Umm…. Acting is the one that I’ve always pursued the most, though I do miss dancing like crazy.
KW: What type of message do you think Bandslam is trying deliver to its audience?
VH: To not be afraid to try new things. I think this movie really breaks it down to show how easy things can be if you really just give it a shot.
KW: How did feel to be named to People Magazine’s 100 Most Beautiful People in the World List two years in a row, last year and again this year?
VH: [Giggles] It’s nice… It’s flattering... But it’s weird in a sense, too. [Laughs] I don’t really think about it every day.
KW: You’re a beautiful mix of many different ethnicities. Is there any one with which you identify the closest?
VH: I was pretty much raised American. Parts of my mom’s Filipino culture I love, but I’m pretty much American.
KW: You also made Forbes Magazine’s High Earners under 30 List. So you were named both the most beautiful and most successful while still in your teens.
VH: It’s bizarre. It’s a crazy thought. I think that if I really stopped to think about it too much, it would get a little overwhelming. But honestly, I don’t dwell on it, so it never really sinks in. Therefore, I genuinely don’t have a reaction to it. I hear about it, but I’m generally too busy going through the motions.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
VH: No, I think I’ve been asked every single question in the book over these past four years. [Chuckles]
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
VH: Everybody gets afraid.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
VH: I’m extremely happy.
KW: The Teri Emerson question: when was the last time you had a good laugh?
VH: About five minutes ago.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
VH: I’m reading Cannery Row by John Steinbeck.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music are you listening to nowadays?
VH: The Kings of Leon.
KW: What would you say has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
VH: There’ve been plenty of things. I think just being in the business there’s so much to overcome. I’m still overcoming things now. For example, getting a different type of role after High School Musical was tough. I’ve really had to work hard to get the parts that I’ve gotten so far.
KW: Tell me a little about your two upcoming movies, Beastly and Sucker Punch.
VH: Sucker Punch is a fantasy-action and Beastly is a modern interpretation of Beauty and the Beast. It’s a bit edgier. It’s about a vain guy who gets turned into a creature by this witch played by Mary-Kate Olsen. He has to find true love, but it’s sexy and edgy, and I’m really excited for people to see it because it has a great message.
KW: Speaking of vanity, when you look in the mirror, what do you see?
VH: I see a reflection of myself. [Chuckles]
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
VH: My favorite dish to cook? Honestly? Whole wheat toast with almond butter and jelly. [Laughs]
KW: The Laz Alonso question: How can your fans help you?
VH: By watching Bandslam on August 14th!
KW: Thanks again Vanessa, and best of luck with Bandslam.
VH: Thank you very much. You take care. Bye-bye.
To see a trailer for Bandslam, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAloQYjWmFI